What you may not be expecting from the stylish, newly renovated Bibim, a Korean spot on Harvard Avenue in Allston that was formerly Color, is mom’s home cooking. This may account for the many young Koreans filling the tables here. One homey dish is budae ($13), also known as “army stew,” because it contains slices of Vienna sausage and Spam, two ingredients Koreans learned about from American GIs, along with Velveeta cheese (no kidding). Into the iron pot of spicy sauce go ramen noodles, scallions, enoki mushrooms, and more. My dining companion, well versed in Korean cuisine, says, “This is what you would eat if you lived in Korea.”
Nothing at Bibim has been Americanized and the heat hasn’t been toned down either. Kimchee pancakes ($8.50), are crisp on the outside and filled with spectacularly spicy fermented cabbage. A beautiful black bowl of jjolmyun ($9), cold, chewy noodles covered with a fiery chili sauce, come with clusters of shredded cucumbers, red cabbage, and a perfect golden-yolked egg, which you toss together.
The former Color was very bright and cheerful. A year and a half ago, Young Kim, 49, bought it and kept the name while she and her son, Ed, 26, who manages the restaurant while she cooks, were deciding what to change it to. Several months ago a hair salon adjacent to Color came available and the Kims took it over. Bibim in Korean means “mixed,” as in the famous dish, bibimbap, or “mixed rice.” Young Kim, an artist who specializes in watercolors, acted as designer. The double-wide storefront, which seats 40 to 50, is a light, airy space with bleached wood tables, white and tan rattan chairs, a brick wall painted white, hanging pendants, and jazz on the sound system. It has a French country feel.
Ed Kim was born in Korea and came here with his family when he was 18. He studied biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His mother always dreamed of having her own restaurant, says the son, so he decided to work with her.
The restaurant’s namesake dish, bibimbap ($11.50 regular, $2 more in a stone pot) is exemplary and the little bowl of dark red chili sauce is addictive. Add some to the mixture of rice topped with carrots, cucumbers, beef, rice noodles, mushrooms, sprouts, and fried egg, mix the ingredients, and in the stone pot version, you’ll release the crusty rice from the bottom.
Even the side dishes are unusual here. There’s kimchi, soy bean sprouts tossed with chili sauce, cubed potatoes in a sweetened soy dressing, and rotini tossed with mayonnaise. And these don’t come to the table while you’re waiting for your food, as they do in some restaurants. You get the little dishes when your order arrives.
Steamed dumplings filled with meats and vegetables ($7.50) have thin, tender skins. Dduk boki, slender rice-noodle logs in a bath of spicy, thick red sauce ($9 to $13), comes in a red gratin dish that almost matches the color of the food. It seems like this dish, plain or garnished with beef, pork, or seafood, is going out to every table around us. Nestled into the mixture are thin strips of fish cake, which add to the aromatics.
From the list of grills, kalbi ($17.50), beef short ribs on the bone, cut into thin slices and marinated with a succulent sauce, is served with grilled onions and chili peppers. The sweet, salty, spicy marinade is incredibly good.
And in the stew section, along with the homey “army” pot served in cast iron, you can order soft tofu stew ($11), an immensely appealing dish. The soft tofu is creamy beside bundles of enoki mushrooms and other fungi (the dish also comes with seafood or beef). The fire here is just right, the balance of vegetables to broth is too, and you scoop it up with a spoon of rice, or sip it by the bowlful.
This mother and son redefine what a mom and pop restaurant can be. The light streaming in through the windows says it all.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.